Ajax stared at the monster tasting his spilled blood.
The monster. It was too large to be considered anything else, too large to be a mutant dog or an escaped monkey or anything sane.
It could see him in the shadows, but he felt safer next to the tree anyhow. And yet, something pushed him out. For a moment, it felt like a pressure against his back, like the shadow of the tree was forcibly ejecting him. But it was just his feet moving themselves, carrying him toward the monster in the middle of the street. He stopped himself just past the curb. “What’s a thing like you doing in a place like this? Are you one of Katana Girl’s friends? I gotta say, nice costume, man.”
It continued to stare at him, a long white tongue lolling out. Ajax picked up a pebble from the street and tossed it toward the creature. It didn’t move, didn’t seem to even notice. Then its huge nostrils flared.
So he scraped some of his blood off his injury and flung a droplet toward the creature. The baboon head turned, tracking the trajectory of the droplet, then snapped back to Ajax with a preternatural precision. It was not the movement of anyone in a costume.
It spoke again. “So tasty…” The monster’s voice was a growl that slipped up to a squeal on the final syllable.
Ajax took a step backward, and then his feet wouldn’t move anymore. It felt like he was up against a wall, like a warm breeze at his back obstructed his movement.
“Make you bleed, swallow you down. Oh, it would be nice.” The monster sighed. “No, no, we mustn’t. Too much promise. Be patient!” It snapped its teeth toward one side. “It is valuable. Almost a Guardian. It could be ours.”
“Your precious?” suggested Ajax, and looked around for a weapon. A stick, a big rock. A car near him had a taped-on bumper. He darted toward it, and something invisible hit him so hard he almost fell over. He staggered to one side, then crouched down to regain his equilibrium.
“Careful,” crooned the monster and padded closer.
There was a chill on Ajax’s injured side, and when he instinctively investigated, he realized that there was now no blood at all. It was like it’d been freshly cleaned, like something had licked every drop of blood away.
He looked up, fury finally crashing past the shock, the denial and the fear. He was in a circle of hungry, invisible observers, crouching across from something taunting him. It was almost like primary school again, and he knew exactly what to do. If this nightmare was going to kill him, he was going to go down fighting and happy.
He turned his crouch into a spring-powered charge at the monster. It had time to blink in surprise before he grabbed that white-tipped mane. He held on with one hand while he used the other hand to hammer on the giant baboon’s face.
The monster bellowed. A maw of fangs gaped, and Ajax promptly forced his hand in. “You want to eat me?” he rasped. “Choke on it, you bastard.” He grabbed something slimy and yanked as the teeth closed on his arm.
Its front paws came up to push Ajax away, the long claws shredding his clothes as it scrabbled. Ajax kicked it in response. He was smaller than the monster, but not by as much as he originally thought. A smile stretched his face taut.
The monster rolled its eyes wildly and opened its mouth again, coughing violently. One paw wrapped around Ajax’s throat while the other yanked Ajax’s fist from its mouth. Then, it stood all the way up on its back legs. It carried Ajax up as well, holding him by his throat and his arm.
Something invisible caught his shoe, needles slicing through the leather to prick his feet. The monster roared, “Away!” and Ajax’s foot was released.
Ajax dangled six feet above the ground, held at arm’s length by the monster. It now reminded him of a bear instead of a horse or a baboon. “What are you?” he croaked. His arm ached awfully, but it was still attached, which he counted as a win.
It coughed again, then spit out something wet and solid. “I am Descry. A child,” it growled.
Ajax tried to give it a once over from his awkward, okay, painful vantage point. “I’m not seeing it.” But he was disturbed. He was pretty sure he was in a nightmare of some sort, but if this thing was a child, it couldn’t be his nightmare. He was generally an asshole, he knew, but he tried to be nice to kids. Even when it didn’t work out to his benefit, dammit. He remembered too well what it was like, being small and weak, unable to influence the most important things in his life.
“You would make such a good parent. Your children would be strong…”
“Ah. I’m wasting my introspection on you.” Ajax brought his free hand up to brace against the grip on his throat. He was definitely feeling woozy, even though the monster wasn’t actively trying to throttle him. “Not interested in kids of my own, sorry. Especially not with you. Life is fucked up enough.”
He kicked the joint on the arm holding his neck, the most vulnerable part of the beast he could reach. The monster’s hand opened reflexively and for a moment he dangled painfully from one arm. Then he swung himself forward to kick the monster in the chest, and it released his arm.
He landed in a crouch on the ground, cradling his arm. He half-expected invisible claws to seize him, invisible teeth to rend him. But the warmth of his injury was flowing down his side again. He growled at the monster and set himself to charge it again.
But Descry backed off, with a coughing bark that Ajax realized was a laugh. It dropped to all fours again and galloped around Ajax in a circle, laughing and swiping at empty space. Then it spun and looked at Ajax again. “See you later, my treasure. We’re going to have so much fun together.”
The white in its fur darkened to black, and the pale glow around it vanished. Then, it was gone, leaving behind only a pool of black fluid where it had spat its blood on the street.